Filth. That's all they were. Skittering back and forth between their warrens of rot and disease, pumping out clouds of choking poison that blotted out the sun of every world they settled. Howling gales of furnace-hot wind curdled the air and sent storms of dust and sand scraping at the polished surface of his visor, dirt-stained faces scowling with their ape-like features as he strode through the throng. Even through the grime, he could tell none of them were his prey, hapless souls lost in the consuming dust storms of Caleston and the consuming shadows of the soot-stained spires of Syneu. Somewhere on this miserable, besotted world were the creatures that had hurt her. That took her away from her people. Shen'Reth nar Khalos' eyes burned with white fire behind the deep crimson of his visor, pulling the dirtied cowl tighter around his broad-shouldered form. Ash falling from the clouded skies gathered around the quarian's ankles, leaving behind a trail of alien footsteps in the dust, so different from the countless others shuffling busily through the markets. Merchants set up small awnings over their booths, huddled and dirty figures packing together to futilely escape the falling ash, bartering and haggling for their goods. Bright neon signs flashed overhead, false light replacing the choking sun. Shen scoffed as he continued on his search. Commerce. A system created by the greed of the alien to fuel their economic enslavement of one another. On the Flotilla, everyone had what they needed and never asked for more. How galactic civilization managed to survive under the weight of it's own greed was something beyond him. In the end, it was greed that brought him here. Greed that had taken something so fragile and beautiful and twisted and broken it. Something that had been his.
Daro had come here as part of her Pilgrimage. She had planned it carefully step-by-step and pinpointed Caleston as an ideal location to procure a gift for the Fleet, so rich in drive core materials and littered with resources to spare. With painful clarity, he remembered her cheerful voice pointing out each highlighted destination on the small haptic star map she had built from scratch, the glowing lights illuminating the small cubicle she had shared with her revered parents. This was one of her primary destinations. Someone would know something about her and Shen knew exactly where to look. Being an Alliance colony, Caleston's capital of Syneu was not supportive of a dextro-based population like quarians or turians. This left only a handful of shelters capable of housing such species within the city and so far, the other's had been dead ends. The only one left was 'Kanek's', as the locals called it.
Shouldering and sidestepping his way through the press of dirtied bodies that made up the markets, Shen's visor scanned the rusted shacks that made up the district beyond, passing the vagrant homeless huddling together in makeshift shelters made from refuse and beggars foolish or desperate enough to ask for handouts from a quarian. Shen would have laughed at the irony if he had the time or the patience. Finally, he found a match, a rusted sign clattering above the building's entrance hastily painted with worn-away turian lettering reading as 'Kanek's Home for the Needy,' his visor needing to scan the sign several times to acquire an accurate translation.
A gust of wind blew a spiraling cloud of dust and sand past the quarian as Shen's gloved fist slammed against the metal entrance, a hollow booming sound echoing beyond the sand-blown entrance. Sliding partially open with a sharp hiss and a screech of metal, one beady green eye stared back at quarian's crimson visor, Shen brought his omni-tool forward with a flourish. Projecting a three-dimensional image of a quarian woman clothed in a dark cloak and veil over a suit of archaic armor, silver eyes like chips of polar ice caught in the starlight and smiling past a cerulean visor. Shen's voice, authoritive and demanding, growled at the turian hiding behind the door. "Do you recognize this woman?" One hand rested on the pistol at his side, folded on it's magnetic clasp.
The faceless turian's eye darted nervously to the quarian's three-fingered hand, mandibles clicking audibly even from beyond the door. Looking back to the holo of Daro, the turian shook his head after examining it. Moving to slide the door shut, Shen's hand slammed inside the frame loudly, the turian barking in surprise and falling backwards as the quarian forced the door open. Easily a dozen turians, men and women, even a few children whispered frightened murmurs between each other, flinching and backing away in fear as Shen draws his pistol. Bringing the holo up, Shen lazily aimed his pistol across the beleaguered crowd, soft screams sounding from wherever the gaze of the pistol's barrel fell beneath the voice booming from behind the crimson mask. It seemed even the great turian empire had its poor and cowardly, forgotten by a system as corrupt as the rest. "Let's try this again. Do any of you recognize this woman?" Shen breathed through gritted teeth.
Silence and frightened whimpers answered him. Shen's eyes narrowed beneath his visor, pinpoints of white-hot fire beneath a pane of blood-colored glass, leveling his pistol toward the green-eyed turian who had the misfortune of answering the door, aiming between his eyes. "Someone say something. I know you can understand me." Shen's hand was perfectly steady aiming at the turian man's head.
Slowly, Shen's finger curled tighter around the trigger, the turian's mandibles fluttering along with his quivering form. "Wait," a high-pitched flanging voice interrupted, a turian woman stepping forward and placating a small child chasing after her with a stained blanket, "I know her... She's a miner. She went to Dune once and came back with some human. The club out by the transit hub. Didn't see her again."
The quarian's finger eased a fraction of an inch on the trigger. "Who did she work for? Who was the human?"
The turian woman slowly rose her taloned hands, marred with filth and dirt as though expecting Shen to fire on her. "I don't know. I don't know. She went to Dune on her days off. Please, that's all I know."
With a suddenly flurry of movement, the quarian twirled his pistol, folding it and replacing it at his side while banishing his holo and omni-tool as he turned on one foot and strode out into the sand-blown streets of Syneu.
The Dune. He had a lead.
Beyond the grime-encrusted towers of Caleston's capital, Shen's eyepiece zoomed onto an encroaching dust storm, the crowds parting as he walked through the sand-blown streets and hurrying to their homes before the storm found them. With a soft whine, the scope attached to his visor returned to it's default position, the quarian pulling his dirtied shawl tighter over his shoulders as he continued his solemn march through the foundries. Grime-encrusted faces watched him with scornful hate and bitter resentment, their gazes lost on Shen'Reth. He paid them no mind. What were they to him? Filthy aliens ignorant of his kind, squabbling in poverty and disease. The irony would have been entertaining if it wasn't so pathetic.
A sneering man jeered from his stand as Shen passed, grease and oil staining his clothes and skin as he leaned next to pile of useless scrap with a smug smirk made of yellowed teeth. "'nother damn bucket. Figures yer kind would wanna come 'er and take everything we got while we're in the shit."
White eyes burned behind Shen's crimson visor, unblinking as they stared at the filthy human, silent and unmoving. Disdain quickly turned to fear in the human's eyes, the quarian savoring the human's subtle squirms beneath his gaze. Intimidation was an unexpected advantage wearing of the suits. Most sentients when standing still didn't really stand still at all. Their chests rose and fell as they breathed. Subtle twitches in the facial muscles gave away silent pondering. Weight shifted occasionally from foot to foot. The suit hid the vast majority of these humanizing qualities, and what it couldn't was easily masked. Shen, as far as the human was concerned, was a faceless spectre stepping out from the sands, staring with implacable alien eyes, armored in enough plate to take a round from a mass-accelerator cannon and carrying enough weaponry to invade a small moon. Cowards where often the first to speak, and the first to fold, in Shen's experience. This vendor was no different.
Crossing the space between them in springing strides, the human stumbles backward in the face of Shen's burning gaze, falling backward and tripping over his stand into the pile of scrap at his side in a loud crash. Looming over the derelict piece of sentient trash, a harsh gale sent the ragged cloth of the quarian's shawl billowing in the breeze, staring down silently with narrowed pinpoints of burning starlight. The flickering light of his mouthpiece blinked as he spoke. "Look at yourself, human. You and your kind... You've barely taken your first steps into a wider galaxy and you already find excuses to hate me and my people. Is it because the other species' do? Are your kind so eager to thrust yourselves onto the stage that you need to consult the opinions of your betters to fit in with the throng? Take a look around, human. Who's the one laying in the trash?" Even mechanized, Shen's voice was eerily calm, as though he may as well have been scolding a child for spilling a glass of water.
Sharply turning on one heel, Shen continues onward before the blubbering grease-spot of a sentient can formulate a response. He was hardly worth the quarian's time. In truth, it had been a wasteful effort scolding him. The man would continue on with his prejudices unabated. Anger and irritation had spurred the outburst, the sight of so much filth, literal and metaphorical both causing him to cringe. He was here for a purpose. A purpose far greater and more important than their barbed tongues or jaded, ignorant words. It called deep inside his mind with clarion cry, silvery and piercing as her own distant voice. Justice. It rose from somewhere deep inside the quarian, fueled by anger and outrage at the galaxy that spat on his kind and given life by the horrors that tried to break that proud, innocent, lonely girl he knew as a boy. It's cry rose even over the howling winds of sand and dust, the pulsing beat of the nightclub growing louder as Shen's steps brought him ever closer to his goal. Justice would be had.
A band of neon light proudly displayed the name of the Dune over the entrance, a tightly-sealed doorway designed to keep out the choking sandstorms and ash fall. Haptic interface flashing a bright green, the doorway opened with a barely audible hiss, a second identical door at the end of a short hallway lined with vacant couches opening and letting loose a barrage of furious, pounding beats on the quarian. Dark red light filled the smoky club, Shen's eyepiece immediately compensating for the low-light conditions and disorienting strobes. The quarian's omni-tool flared with a twitch of his three-fingered hand, cycling through the input methods of his visor's high-end visor, a custom piece of hardware displaying it's own visual feed on his mask's HUD. Infrared, heartbeat monitor, VI targeting array. All built into one easily-interfaced device the size of a rifle scope. If there was one thing Shen could say about Daro, it was her technological genius. She had taken some old parts from a rifle scope and a helmet to make it for him for his Pilgrimage. Fitting he would be using her gift of vision for his hunt.
A turian stood behind the far bar, leaning against the rack of neon backlit drinks separated from Shen by the silhouetted bodies writhing on the dance floor. Pressing on through the crowd, shoving the club goers aside in stride, Shen approached the bar, the turian slowly taking stock of the armed and armored quarian and standing up straight from his slouch. "So, whose day are you planning on fucking up?" he asked, one mandible hanging slack in a weak grin. As he gestured to Shen's armored and armed form
Bringing forward the familiar holo of Daro with a flourish, Shen's eyes narrow dangerously beneath his helmet. "Do you recognize this woman? I was told she frequented this club."
The bartender takes a step forward, placing his taloned hands on the solid surface of the bar and leaning to get a better view of the holo. Purely for show or his own amusement, likely. Not enough quarians came through Caleston to warrant anything more than a 'yes' or 'no.' After a long moment, the turian slowly nodded. "Yeah... I knew her. She worked this mine. I overheard some of her coworkers, regulars here, talking about something going down between her and their boss, then she disappeared. Heard he got a new mining laser shortly after, too. Love to know where they got the creds for that, private miners never turned a cred on this rock before."
Shen banished the holo with a flourish, leaning further over the bar as he spoke with a level stare beneath his visor. "Tell me everything you know about her."
The turian shrugged, leaning one shoulder against the bar as he spoke. "Not much. She wasn't a talker. Came in here a few times after her shift was over at the mine she worked at. Not any of the EA mines... I think she mentioned the one out by the valleys. Just out west. Sand crawler trail can get you there in a few minutes. Not a far walk outside the city."
Remembering the mention of a human at the turian shelter, Shen continues. "Did she have any friends? Anyone she spent time with or knew personally?"
Rapping his talon's against the freshly-cleaned bar, a marvel in and of itself considering Caleston's environment, the turian's mandibles twitched thoughtfully before he answered. "Yeah, some human. I think he was her boyfriend or something. He came here a lot. She'd wait around sometimes until he would get back from his own shift. Haven't seen him around since all those big layoffs a while back. Probably getting wasted somewhere."
Without giving any recognition to the turian's words, Shen spun on one heel and marched back out of the club and onto the sand-blown streets of Syneu. The late afternoon sun sank quickly toward the horizon, the choking cloud of sand the quarian had seen approaching enveloping the empty streets in darkness. Checking the compass built into his HUD recalibrated for Caleston's poles, Shen oriented himself to the west, pulling his shawl tighter around his broadly-armored shoulders and trudging through the storm.
What the turian had said did not rest well in Shen's thoughts. Boyfriend? That seemed so unlike Daro. Beyond each other, they had no friends on the Khalos. The girl was a prodigy, but that came with the cost of being labeled a pariah. Bitterly, Shen could clearly recall the first day he had met Daro, pushing down the boy who stood there, leading the laughing crowd of children in their mockery of the crying girl. Their day-watcher had been less than pleased, but it was worth it. They had been inseparable from that day forth.
Growing up, Shen had called Daro the closest thing he had to a sister and her parents the closest thing he had to a real family. After his own parents had died during a viral outbreak, Shen had been raised almost communally by the Khalos' crew, taught everything he needed from whoever was there at the time. After another family had moved in to share his family's cubicle to manage the space, he had taken to spending more and more time with Daro's family. Her parents had welcomed him with open arms. She was his best friend. His little sister.
When her parents died, it had hit Daro harder than anyone could see, due in no small part to how often she was ignored. But Shen could see her crying at the funeral, watching mournfully as their bodies were ejected into the consuming light of the stars. He found her later that day crying alone in the cubicle they had both called their home. Since then, she had grown so much more fierce. Proud of her heritage. Defiant of those who scorned her and her isolated nature. Her brilliance shone in any subject she pursued, excelling in all fields of her Pilgrimage training. Shen considered himself no slouch in his combat training, but Daro could beat him handedly and often did.
In spite of all of this, Daro had remained a loner. She absorbed herself in her training and her learning, determined to perhaps live up to her parent's expectations. Make them proud of her. Maybe even prove herself to the Fleet for casting her out. Even when she left to begin her Pilgrimage, Shen had been the only one to bid her farewell. Opening the holo he had taken of her before leaving the Khalos, her smiling eyes gazed back at him, the prism of light paling in comparison to the real thing. It was a rare sight. Not something she gave freely. Whoever this human was, it had been him who had broken her.
Her armor gleamed within the small prism of the holo, polished and prepared obsessively before Shen himself had helped her affix each piece of the reliquary plate, metal armor forged from minerals taken from the earth of the home world and passed down and upgraded with the latest available technology with each generation since their exile. She was everything a quarian could hope to be. And then she had limped home, broken, sickly, wearing a mockery of a quarian's suit and a price stamped across the surface of her visor. Banishing the holo with a vicious sneer marring the quarian's features, Shen's steps grew a little more purposeful, the strides a little wider. Whoever he was, he would pay. They would all pay.
Fading twilight turned to starless night as the quarian trudged through the dunes of sand and dust beyond Syneu, the smoking towers of the city of foundries vanishing in the howling gales of the sandstorm. Fine-tuning the HUD of his visor to acclimate for the poor conditions, Shen continued unabated, the compass of his helmet's navigation VI pointing him westward. A faint light flickered on the horizon, the zooming sight of his modified scope making out the outline of a towering marker, the beacon blinking with a steady pulse of red neon to aid travelers moving through the sandstorm. Double checking his navigation VI, the quarian was sure that he had found the mine, climbing over a rocky outcropping to stare down at the massive shaft plunging into the planet's crust.
Eyes of white fire pierced the veil of the quarian's opaque screen and the choking sand, sliding down the dune and continuing undaunted to the entrance of the mine, slamming his fist against the access panel, the noise and encompassing heat of the mine rushing to meet him like the warm embrace of his ancestors. Descending deeper into the mineshaft, Shen found a handful of turians dressed in filthy coveralls gathered around a massive mass of packaged bulk, a quick scan of the labels identifying it as a new model of mining laser, the turian miners shouting and barking as they attempted to sort out exactly how to ready the machine for it's work. A commotion from an office building built into the side of the cavernous hall drew the attention of the sapients, a bloated human shouting another miner out of what the quarian could only assume was his office.
The banished miner stalked away, thoroughly scolded for whatever offence he had caused, Shen pausing as the human rejoined the crew at the laser. Eyeing the office and the unassembled laser, a plan forms in the quarian's mind, his modulated voice echoing strangely in the cavernous expanse of the mine. "You need to check the emergency seals," he said, the assembled crew of miners suddenly snapping their dirtied faces in his direction.
Approaching the hulking device still partially packaged and unassembled, Shen crouched to reach where his visor's scans indicated the fuel cells would go, talking idly as he slipped beneath the laser itself. "Company policy on these makes them leave the emergency seals locked in during shipping," he said, pulling a handful of small metal disks from his suit pockets, slipping them discretely into the laser. The batarian at the spaceport was happy to part with the explosives for what few credits Shen had, the bold logo of Batarian State Arms displayed proudly on the small disks. While batarian technology wasn't the most reliable, they were well-known for producing weapons that used unique and illegal materials, the chemical compounds used in the very explosives the quarian carried synthesized, patented and manufactured by a nationalized weapons-dealer. The perfect scapegoat.
Uncapping the emergency seal and releasing them, Shen slid out from under the drill just as one of the miners moved to bend over and investigate, dusting himself off and looking around at the barely-repressed hate in their filthy faces. Almost grinning to himself, Shen spoke. "You guys wouldn't happen to know if you were hiring, huh?"
One dirt-streaked human spat on the ground by Shen's armored feet, turning his sneering face to the quarian's visor and jabbing a finger toward the office built into the side of the cavernous wall. His lips curled as though to level another slur in the quarian's direction before he caught sight of the Mattock's stock rising over one shoulder, swallowing thickly and settling for a silent point of the finger.
Swallowing his pride and giving a mock bow, Shen strode toward the office, his three-fingered hand tapping rhythmically at his side, feeling the small detonator hidden in his suit pocket. The sweating and corpulent human had barely had time to return to his seat behind his desk from his tirade before Shen opened the door, locking it behind him with a wave of his omni-tool. The rolls of fat that made up the creature's neck curled over each other as he twisted his head in Shen's direction, the foul, guttural sound of his voice offending the audio receptors of his helmet. "Who the hell are you? Get out, you goddamn vagrant," he shouted indignantly, "We have new hardware commin' in and I don't have time for any more of you bucket-faces getting in my business."
Shen answered the human's cries with a flourishing kick, rage boiling under his flesh at finally having something he could feel guiltless in taking his hate out on, sending the heavy desk sliding along the floor of the office to pin the foreman against the wall. His thick fingers attempted vainly to push the furniture away with a croaked cry of despair, the quarian suddenly appearing crouched on top of the desk with the broad, curved blade of his kukri pressed against the hollow of his throat. A thin line of crimson formed as the bloated ape struggled, every movement only forcing more of the razor edge against his skin as Shen's voice hissed forth from his mouthpiece. "Don't. Move."
The foreman screamed, slapping his meaty palms against the desk and surging forward to free himself as he cried out desperately for help. Muffled voices reacting in shock and panic reached Shen's audio enhancers, his three-fingered hand reaching into his suit and removing the thin, cylindrical detonator. The human's small eyes widened in fear as the quarian's thumb pressed down on the small red switch, a deafening explosion sounding just outside of the office and blowing away the glass window and metal shutters. Mouth left hanging agape in shock, the foreman stared out at the carnage just beyond the relative safety of his office, the steaming, gory remains of his workers, both human and turian, clinging to the walls of the demolished cavern. Shen's voice rose of the ringing in the man's ears, turning his nearly tear-filled eyes to the flickering light of the quarian's mouthpiece. "I said don't move."
The human obeyed, fear shining in the small beads of his eyes, lifting the pudgy digits of his hands from the desk in surrender. Shen's blazing eyes never blinked or strayed from the rotund human's face, crouched silent and still atop the desk like a predator of distant Rannoch. The flickering light of his mouthpiece broke the image. "How did you afford the drill outside? Or at least what's left of it."
"W-What?," the human sputtered, "I-I don't know what you're talkin' about..." Shen's eyes narrowed, thin arrows of raging supernovas seeking the heart of their prey. He was a bad liar.
"A quarian worked here, for you," Shen said, the scalding hot venom inside him leaking into his words, "Something happened to her. You know exactly what I'm talking about. Look at you. Gluttonous, self-entitled."
"I'm telling you," he shouted, swallowing thickly, "I don't know any quar-"
His words were cut short by the insistent pressure of Shen's blade against his throat, the razor edge teasing the vital arteries hidden beneath the rolls of fat that made up his neck, a rivulet of crimson running from the curved edge of the blade and dripping onto the desk as the quarian spoke. "Her name was Daro'Xen," he said, hissing like molten steel pouring from his lips, "She had a family who loved her. She had hopes. She had dreams. She smiled. She laughed."
The three-fingered grip on his blade tightened, the quarian's words growling through the flickering crimson light of his mouthpiece, a distant, dying sun rumbling in it's death-throes. "She ran through the halls of the Khalos, playing with the orphan boy in the ragged red suit. She had a future," he said, a burning fire consuming his composure in it's fervor, "But you... You took that from her. You stole her away." Shen's visor loomed over the human's, eyes like blades forged in the heart of a dying star burning through a blood-red haze. "And you bought a drill. Oh, yes. I know. I have learned a great many things, since coming to this rock."
The foreman barked his surrender, fearful tears welling up in his wide, terrified eyes. "Alright! Alright! I knew her! I knew the bu- quarian! I knew her! Just, please, stop! I... This other guy was behind it! I'm telling you, it wasn't me! I can tell you were to find him, just let me go!"
"Who?" the quarian demanded, pressing the blade close enough to force a choking sound from the bloated human, "Who is he? Give me a name."
The foreman struggled vainly beneath the quarian's blade, tears flowing from his beady eyes over his greasy cheeks as mucus bubbled and frothed from his nostrils. "J-Jason! His n-name is Jason Dray! God! He's a junkie! Please, I only dealt him sand! He slums out over in Syneu! Downtown! Please, I don't know nothing else! Just l-let me go! Please!"
Shen's hand never wavered from it's place at the human's throat, watching his pudgy fingers wag helplessly as he sniffles for mercy, measuring his words. He was afraid. Too afraid to attempt another bluff. Was there no end to the cowardice here? "Jason," the quarian announced, slowly, as though tasting the foreign name on his tongue. "What was he to Daro? How did he know her?"
The human sputtered, a faint gleam in his eye betraying his nauseating hopeful feeling at possibly waddling away with his life. "H-He's just a sand junkie, I swear! Nothin' special! He was her boyfriend or something! He got laid off and sold her for sand!"
"And you dealt to him," the quarian hissed, looming over the human like an executioner over the guilty.
Renewing his sputter plea for mercy, the foreman nodded slowly. "Yeah, I dealt to him... But I-I didn't... I... I just had some of my boys wait to take her down... I... I gave Dray the sand and handed her over to some blinks at the port... That's it. I never actually touched her! I told you everything... Just, please, let me go..."
Shen responded with a flash of light, the flickering light of the flames burning within the demolished mine reflecting off the bold, curved edge of his blade before it's buried in the human's paunch gut. The foreman's mouth opened in a silent scream, staring wide-eyed in agonized disbelief at Shen's crimson visor. The quarian's voice hissed like blood poured over a white-hot blade. "You are not leaving here. You took everything from her. For that, you're going to sit here and watch, bleeding to death as everything you built from your profiteering collapses around you."
The quarian's grip tightened, his arm tensing visibly beneath his armored suit before dragging the blade along the human's stomach. He screamed, flesh ripping and fat tearing beneath the razor edge, a deluge of crimson gore flowing from the ruined gap, pouring over Shen's hand. The wild agonized screeching of the bloated human created an unpleasant whining feedback in the quarian's audio receptors, ignoring the distorted screams as more blood frothed and spurted from the slow progress he made across the foreman's abdomen.
With a flourish, the quarian sliced free the deposit of fat sitting on the human's hip, his kukri pulled free of the vacuum of hemorrhaging flesh with a wet sucking sound, wiping off the blade on the sweat-soaked shirt of the human. Pained groans befitting a wounded animal rose from the human's throat, his vocal chords cracking as he choked in agony, Shen's free hand pulling free a handful more charges from the pocket of his suit. Stepping off of the desk and strolling out of the office, the quarian took one last look at the human from the doorway, waving his pudgy arms futilely to free himself from his position behind the desk, blood quickly turning black as toxins from his lacerated liver poisoned his bloodstream.
Politely closing the door to the office, Shen stepped calmly over the steaming piles of gore that remained of the miner's caught in the explosion, thumbing the arming switches on the batarian-made charges and tossing them haphazardly as he made for the mineshaft's entrance. Stepping back out onto the sand-blown surface of Caleston, the dying screams of the foreman echoing around him along the shaft like an aria of the damned, the quarian's thumb pressed down on the detonator, a plume of dust and smoke and fire shooting forth from the mine's entrance as the tunnels collapsed.
The howling winds of the sandstorm nearly eclipsed Shen in their intensity, the quarian navigating with the help his HUD, flowing from the cacophony that was the foreman's screams into the atmospheric chaos of the surface. He would die in that pit, either from his wounds or the lack of oxygen or the natural gasses beneath the crust of Caleston. And yet, Shen felt nothing. There was no great sense of satisfaction or the power-drunk glory of slaying an enemy. There was nothing but the dying man's screams accompanying him up the mineshaft. Shen pulled the ragged cloth wrapped around his broad shoulders tighter, shaking off the sensation. It didn't matter. He was not doing this for some vain sense of self-righteous judgment. This was not about him. This was for Daro, the girl he knew and loved left to crawl home in pain and humiliation. What happened to him and how he felt did not matter. Not now. Not until he was finished.
When the dawning star Balor rose over the horizon of Caleston, a new day was greeted with a horrific scene of murder and destruction, local colonial police forces uncovering the ruins of the mine Shen had destroyed. Forensic investigators had, within days of the mine's destruction, analyzed the explosive compound used in the charges Shen had planted, identifying them as batarian-manufactured weapons. The resulting news feed sent throughout Caleston had sparked a wave of xenophobic violence, Shen watching in patient silence in the dusty shadows of Syneu as lynch mobs marched through the streets, batarian bodies left hanging from streetlamps. A beleaguered colonial defense force struggled to defend the woefully outnumbered non-human population, the mobs responding with riots and looting. Death stalked the streets, fires raging and guns barking into the night and into the day again endlessly. Shen moved through the anarchy without notice, watching and waiting; biding his time to strike. Daro had taught him patience many years ago, the virtues of being methodical.
It was nearly a week before the quarian made it to his final destination on Caleston for what would be the last time. He had kept tabs on his quarry, content to learn his schedule and bask in the chaos he had unleashed on the batarians. The ensuing madness would ensure his meeting with Jason would not be interrupted by authorities. They would have much more pressing concerns. The run-down tenement with it's sealed, rusted shutters had remained remarkably intact throughout the rioting of the past few days, Shen striding calmly over the bodies littering the street as he approached. The quarian's HUD flickered across his visor's display, highlighting several concealed murder holes, enough space for any small arms to fire from behind the safety of the steel shutters. This Jason was clever, the recent additions no doubt helping him defend his squat if the bodies on the street were any indication. The fact that he was also an addict added an unpredictable variable to this encounter, Shen wisely choosing to take no risks with this human. He would be given no quarter.
Drawing his sidearm with a sharp hiss, the quarian slowly approached the damaged front door, a flickering red holographic display indicating that it was locked. Calling his omni-tool forward, Shen's hands darted along the haptic interface as he synched the controls with the door's lock. Although his Pilgrimage training had proven his aptitude for combat over technological skill, the simple act of hacking an outdated door's lock was still within his ability. A chime signaled the shifting of the flickering display from red to green, Shen halting all movement and listening intently for any sign of the human's awareness that he had hacked the door.
Silence answered the quarian's efforts, the howling wind of Caleston's sandstorms and the distant sound of riots raging through the colony his only companion. Gripping the rusted handle welded to the door's surface, Shen pulled, the door slowly sliding open with a grating screech. Before the quarian could register the amount of noise the door had made, a flurry of mass-accelerated rounds impacted against the rusted door with sharp pangs, Shen sliding deeper into cover under a barrage of pistol fire.
A screeching voice shouted from beyond the door, punctuated with shots from the pistol. "C'mon, you motherfuckers! You think you can take me? C'mon!"
Flinching as a mass-accelerated round sheers off a rusted chunk from the door's side, Shen shouts back at the human, tightening the grip on his pistol. "Jason Dray! I need to talk to you," he said, narrowing his eyes like burning knives made of white-hot fire, "It's about Daro."
The gunfire ceased, a shuffling sound coming from beyond the door and breaking glass accompanying the human's words. "Y-You know Daro? Where is she? Have you seen her?"
Three fingers coiled tighter on the pistol's grip as the human spoke her name. He didn't deserve the air he used to do so. "Put down your weapon and we can talk," he said, his voice growling from behind his mask.
The panting breath of the human reached Shen's audio enhancers, irregular and erratic from the possibility of combat. "O-Okay..." he said, "Okay. You can come in. Just... Just close the door behind you."
With one fluid movement, Shen rose from his crouch and spun, taking in the entrance to Jason's squat and the human himself for a brief moment before bringing his pistol forward and firing. The round tore through the human's shoulder on his armed side, Jason falling backwards and slipping as his pistol flew from his hand. Advancing quickly, Shen kicked away the pistol, the weapon sliding beneath a nearby couch as the quarian loomed over the human, the barrel of his pistol trained between his eyes. His features were hidden beneath a layer of dirt and grime, dark circles surrounding his glossy red eyes, turned unnaturally vibrant by his drug of choice. Black hair, matted and unkempt, ran from his scalp and into his eyes, a thick layer of stubble accompanying the dirt masking his face. A stained undershirt clung to his muscular chest, blood soaking into the faded white and running stray droplets down onto a tattered old pair of work pants.
Turning his eyes to his surroundings, Shen examined what appeared to have once been a ramshackle storefront or restaurant, grills and ovens hidden behind a half-demolished counter, converted into a living room and kitchen. A table dominating the center of the living room was weighed down with bags upon bags of red sand, miniature dunes of the illicit drug pouring out of torn open bags next to neatly-formed lines. A folded up assault rifle rested against one corner of the room, Shen's eyes widening in disbelief as he recognized the modified Lancer. Daro's father had worked painstakingly on the weapon, improving and modifying every facet of it's design with obsessive care, creating a tool that would ensure his daughter's safety. And here it was. A trophy.
Turning his gaze back to the groaning human beneath him, Shen's twin-toed foot came down on Jason's wounded shoulder, switching his grip on the pistol and aiming it one-handed between his eyes as he speaks. "You're going to wish I had gotten you between the eyes, human. After everything you did, that would be too merciful."
Clasping his hand against the bleeding would in his shoulder, Jason answered through clenched teeth. "You son of a bitch... How do you know Daro? Where is she?"
"Home," the quarian responded with a vicious hiss, "Where she belongs. She had to crawl home from the pit you sent her to. All to feed your gluttony. Your greed. Disgusting," Shen nearly spits into his mask.
A gleam that seemed to pierce the glossy crimson haze of Jason's gaze shone in his eyes, seemingly ignoring the pain in his arm for a brief moment as he looked up at Shen with a hopeful tone coloring his words. "Sh-She's alive...? Oh God..."
Grinding the ball of his foot in the human's wound, Jason's words were cut off with a groan of pain, a raging inferno consuming Shen's words in a blazing inferno of rage. "Yes, in spite of you. All of you. She survived everything you filth did to her. She will be the only one who survives. "
Dirtied features contorting in rage, Jason's hand shot towards the couch where his pistol had been kicked away, a cry of pain and rage accompanying the telltale glow of biotics dancing around his hand and pulling the pistol back into his grasp. "Fuck you, asshole," he snarled, bringing the pistol to aim at Shen's visor in a quick draw born of harsh living on Caleston. Another hand grasped Shen's ankle, feeling a biotic pulse accompany a wrenching movement from the human that forced the quarian's aim to waver, his reactionary shot going wide and burying itself into the floor inches from Jason's head. Jason's pistol kicked in his hand as he fired, the round striking the metal edge of Shen's visor and sending him reeling backwards from the force of the shot. Scrambling to his feet, a rivulet of blood ran from Jason's nose as he aimed for Shen's visor, the quarian expertly sliding back to his feet and training the sights of his pistol between the human's eyes.
Both sentients stood with their pistols aimed in kill-shots, Shen's steady aim born from training and Jason's fluid natural skill with a pistol. Panting slightly, both men stared at the other. After what seemed like an eternity, Shen's mouthpiece flickered to signal his speech before a raging cry from Jason silenced him. "Shut up! Shut the fuck up! I don't who the fuck you think you are thinking you can come in here and give me some fucking trial about what I did, but I'm not fucking buying it, asshole!"
The trail of blood running from the human's nose dripped into his mouth as she shouted, flickers of artificial biotic power sparking to life around the human before dying, feeding on his rage. "You think I don't feel bad for what I did? You think I don't come down here every fucking day and see that folded up rifle in the corner and remember the one fucking person in this shitty galaxy who cared about me for who I was? You think I don't have fucking nightmares about that night? About when she cried, fucking BEGGED for me to help her? Fuck! You!"
Blood painted the human's teeth, adding an even more fearsome edge to his words, hissed back in focused rage. "You don't what it's like. You have no fucking clue. It's like having needles stab into every part of your body over and over again. I needed the sand. I didn't want it. I needed it. I know what that fat bastard did to her. I couldn't live with myself knowing. So I went after them."
Shen's eyes narrowed in response, Jason scoffing venomously at the slight change in body language as he spoke. "Yeah. That's right. Didn't know about that, did you? Nobody expects Junkie Jay to make anything of himself. I followed the blink fucks to Omega. I dealt sand while I was there to get by. I looked up and down that fucking place. I couldn't find her."
Jason's rage seemed to abate, the grip on his pistol no less stronger as the flickering biotic display forcing small trails of blood to flow from one ear finally dissipates. "I couldn't find her anywhere... I was there for weeks... Did some things I'm not proud of. But I tried. I tried so fucking hard..."
The human blinked away something in his eyes, Shen's finger tensing on the trigger before stopping, some part of him stopping from pulling the trigger. Jason continued, ignorant of the gesture. "So I came back here. To this fucking rotting hole. I punched that fat bastard when I saw he bought that drill... Guess he's dead too, huh?"
Silently, Shen nodded, Jason smirking slightly in spite of the blood pouring from his face and shoulder and the pistol aimed between his eyes. "And I'm guessing we're not going to be kicking back drinks any time soon, either."
The quarian shook his head, remaining silent as Jason nodded. Offering one last smirk, the human nodded as he spoke, almost a gesture of acceptance of what was to come. "Alright... Alright..."
Words gave way to silence, the quarian and the human waiting for the other to make the first move. Shen's finger squeezed the trigger first, Jason dodging to the side at the tension in the quarian's arm and taking the shot in the abdomen as his own pistol kicked, the round going wide and burying itself through the layers of Shen's suit and into his leg. The leg gave out in a spasm of agony, hyper-sensitive nerves shredding from the shot, Shen's pistol falling from his grasp and collapsing onto one knee in a snarl of pain. The human bull rushed the quarian, forcing Shen to momentarily ignore the incredible pain in his leg. Suit breach. The human was tougher than he looked. Shen had grown too comfortable in his hunt, dealing with cowardly miners and intimidating pedestrians. He needed to end this.
Moving with fluid movements, Shen wrestled with the muscular human, attempting to grapple painfully as his HUD flashed a warning of the suit breach in his leg. The VI program installed within his suit immediately sealed off the leg portion to isolate the exposure, sending an injection of emergency combat antibiotics to the area as Jason's fists pounded against his visor and armor with biotic-fueled strength. Wrestling against the powerful muscles of the miner human and turning his clumsily-thrown weight against him, Shen wrapped Jason's arms behind him with one iron-gripped hand. The other went to Jason's head, grabbing a tuft of black hair by the scalp and dragging him toward the table weighed down with red sand.
Kicking out with his good leg, Shen forced Jason to his knees before the table, the human turning with a mocking grin and spitting a gout of blood onto the crimson surface of the quarian's visor. Snarling, Shen slams the human's face down against the table, smothering his face in the pile of red sand. The human's arms squirmed behind his back, the leverage Shen provided on the wrenched limbs forcing them to stay in place as Jason involuntarily inhaled lungfuls of the drug. Choking and coughing on the chemical compound, small crimson clouds kicked up as Jason thrashed in the quarian's grip, suffocating in the poison he had sold Daro for. Shen could think of no better death for this thing, this vessel of putrid animal urges.
Small warps in the air snapped into existence and vanished as quickly as they came, blood pouring from Jason's nose, ears, and eyes, mixing with the crimson dust he choked on. Heaving breaths desperate for air were met with only more of the chemical sand, the human's bleeding eyes rolling back into his skull and sending tremors throughout his body as he slowly suffocated. In time, his twitches stopped, falling limp and lifeless in Shen's iron grip. Slowly letting go as though expecting Jason to renew his assault, the quarian painfully stood on both legs, snarling as he turned on his good leg, limping towards the folded rifle in the corner.
Slowly, gingerly, Shen lifted the folded Lancer and examined the superbly-crafted weapon, not daring to unfold the rifle not meant for his hand. He had left the Flotilla with a fire in his heart and eyes, intent on bringing down all the vengeance and fury he could summon on those responsible for what happened to Daro. Now he had a gift to bring back worthy of his Pilgrimage for her. Taking the weapon and sliding it beneath the dirtied shawl covering his broad chest and shoulders, the quarian hobbled painfully on one leg towards the door.
Reaching the door, Shen turned to look back at the lifeless corpse of the human, Jason's body left slumped in a pile of red sand. His words haunted the quarian's mind, the human seemingly trapped within his own guilty prison in life. It made little difference in the end, but maybe, just maybe, he truly cared for her. In only the way humans could, of course, Shen remarked bitterly. Selfishly.
It was this selfish impulse that Shen had relied on, raging mobs running through the streets, burning and pillaging in single-minded fear without giving thought to the consequences. In the chaos, the quarian's escape was made quickly and easily, stealing away towards the spaceport and hiding in the shadows of Syneu's towering foundries. Sealing a fresh suit patch over his leg, Shen hobbled hidden past a mob, dragging a pair of batarians behind them wrapped in towing cables. Moving quickly and quietly, the quarian discovered a batarian merchant's ship still in dock, several bodies of colonists and the batarian crew littering a broad area around the open access hatch. An echoing explosion sounded in the distance, the armored quarian ducking and drawing his sidearm instinctively. Massive plumes of smoke and fire reached into the sky beyond the horizon, one of the fires raging through the city reaching the refineries. There had already been bad blood between the humans and the batarians, the latter even threatening to leave the Council. It would be a small victory, but the hope that both sides would consume one another in bloody penance was not entirely unappealing to the limping quarian.
Shen's eyes narrowed behind his crimson visor at the sight, screams and panicked cries welling up from the din of the explosion. If the people were fortunate and managed to organize to combat the fires, the colony would survive. Striding into the ship, the quarian's audio enhancers caught the sound of distant voices echoing through the freighter's halls. Stalking through the ship, Shen heard raised voices shouting from the mess hall. Humans. Likely scavengers arguing over their prize. Gripping his rifle, Shen turned the corner into the mess hall, the combat VI of his visor scope coordinating his aim as he leveled the sights of his weapon in the humans' direction. Three men, two women, two in the chest and one in the head each. Their bodies slumped and cart wheeled, blood splattering against the metal deck plating. Shen felt nothing. Just another pull of the trigger after many. He would eject the bodies once he was off-world.
Navigating his way to the bridge, Shen pulled a slumped batarian body from the command console, meeting the dead stare of his four black eyes. The Hegemony would not look kindly on this incident, however. Once the propagandists heard of the lynching's, they would call for blood. The thought forced a wolfish smile across Shen's masked lips as he keyed in the commands to ready the freighter for launch. Caleston would never be the same again. A fitting punishment for what it did to Daro.